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A collection of articles and short stories. Some appear elsewhere on the net, some just on here.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

HMS Edinburgh's Gold.

Fictional Diary Extract from the Life Story of Ted Beard.

Ted Beard, my grandfather, was a Royal Marine on board the cruiser HMS Edinburgh during WWII. Edinburgh was engaged on convoy escort duty in the Arctic in 1942. This entry describes the events before Edinburgh set off back to Scapa Flow.

Sunday 26th / Monday 27th April
The Edinburgh had arrived at the Kola inlet, Murmansk, on 19th April and supplies were unloaded for the eastern front 20 miles away. Constantly subject to air raids, sleet, snow and temperatures of 10 degrees below freezing, there was little time for rest.

Approaching midnight, the docks at Murmansk are unusually quiet in the dull grey daylight. The air raid had ended an hour ago and the port seems to be sleeping uneasily under its cape of snow. Ted is with Major Caffyn at the top of one of the ladders leading from the lower deck up to Edinburgh’s flight deck. From this vantage point he can see the Royal Marine squadron stationed on guard along the lower deck and up the ladders. Each man is armed and alert.
            A pair of barges slide into view, coming from the southern end of the inlet. Both carry Russian soldiers armed with Tommy guns. They draw alongside and cut their quietly popping engines. Once they are secured, Ted hears the ship’s bugle shrilling below decks, then the order.
            ‘Both watches - duty hands fall in. Starboard waist.’
            Soon ratings can be heard grumbling as they come onto deck, ‘Quarter to bloody midnight.’
They are silenced by the sight of the armed guard. Hastily they fall in. With quick economy, the naval officers organise them into pairs to unload the barges. Disciplined and orderly, each pair lifts a heavy wooden rope-handled box onto the deck and from there up the ladders to the flight deck. The boxes are then lowered by ropes into the bomb room three decks below.
            Ted hears them whispering as they pass.
            ‘’Ere, it’s gold this!’
            He watches this realisation pass along the line of toiling men. More reverential now, they manoeuvre the boxes with great care. The hushed atmosphere makes him want to hold his breath.
            ‘’Ow much is there?’ Still they whisper.
            ‘There’s tons of it!’
            ‘Someone kidnap the King?’
            ‘’Ope no one’s told `Itler wot we’re carryin’.’
            Sleet starts to fall, carried by a niggling breeze, making the walkways slippery. The ratings struggle to keep their footing as they cross the deck. One staggers, letting go his rope handle, earning curses from his partner. As he bends to seize the handle again he lets out a shout.
            ‘Oi, who’s bleedin’?’
Across the deck is a trail of scarlet blotches. The line of men stops. They stare at the stains. Their eyes follow the spreading spots to the foot of the ladder down which Ted is also staring. A box about to be hoisted by its carriers slowly drips red onto the snow. Nobody moves.
            An officer hurries over, ‘It’s only the sleet making the stencilling run. Move along there.’
            Reluctantly the line picks up pace again.
            The Major and Ted stand back as the sailor who’d first seen the drips passes. He glances at them grimly.
‘It’s going to be a bad trip, sir. This is Russian gold, dripping with blood.’

The Edinburgh sailed with Convoy QP11 on Tuesday 28th April. At 16.13 on Thursday 30th she was torpedoed amidships and aft by German submarine U456.

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